R is for Roach

One of my first jobs after college was working at a Children’s Theater. My sister and I auditioned together by singing “Our House” by Crosby Stills and Nash in two-part harmony. We were asked a series of questions and we were cast in their new show, “Bugs and Other Insects” that was to be performed on weekends at the museum and tour through the Public Schools during the week.

As rehearsals began, I realized my sister was cast in every scene as “the boy” or “the girl” which basically required her to wear a baseball cap backwards. I, on the other hand, had to wear cumbersome costumes as I played a cockroach, an ant and a bumblebee. The cockroach costume was particularly elaborate requiring me to wear brown tights, a huge vinyl shell on my back, six giant legs strapped to my stomach and a beanie that resembled a brown yarmulke with two long antennae pointing out of the top.

Every scene was pretty much the same. The boy or girl, meaning my sister, would go up to the bug, meaning me, and ask questions. I can still see my sister wide-eyed and sincere as I stood dressed as a giant cockroach singing a song about being an exoskeleton.

Since I had taken theater in college, I found it important to implement what I had learned and gave each bug I played a character and elaborate history. For the cockroach I imagined him like Frank Sinatra singing to his brat pack. I held a microphone and swayed back and forth pretending I was in a powder blue tuxedo and not an itchy brown costume as I sang as loud as I could:

“You feel with your hands and I feel with my antennae
You smell with your nose and I smell with my mouth”

Every time I started singing, my sister’s sincere face would suddenly contort as she tried to repress laughter.

“You hear with your ears and I hear with my knees,” I sang, my voice cracking as I started laughing again, which would make my sister get hysterical too. We have always been this way, cursed with church giggles everywhere from funerals to well, church.

At first, the director of the show was patient. He let my sister and I try to collect ourselves over and over and begin again. My sister took long, deep breaths and fanned her face but as soon as I started singing, we would lose it all over again.

By our fourth rehearsal, I laughed so hard I was sure I was going to pee in my costume. I ran out of the rehearsal toward the bathroom, removing my shell as I ran, the urge to urinate becoming more powerful as I neared the door. Why is that? I wondered my hand almost on the knob when I heard a familiar voice, “Marian. Marian!”

I turned and stood frozen in shock when I saw Damon, my first boyfriend standing in the hall in front of an open door where a meeting was obviously in progress. A group of people sitting around a conference desk were staring out at me, my human legs crossed, my cockroach legs stretching practically across the hall.

“Damon!” I said in shock, embarrassed and flooded with a thousand memories of my first love from high school. We met in my freshman year at the School of Performing Arts and I can still remember the flutter in my stomach when he would approach me in band, his saxophone draped around his neck. We dated for over three years and we were known as “the couple”, always hand in hand, always together.

I had heard from my mother that he married one of my friends and moved to Staten Island. He had had a child and the marriage ended. He had gone through a difficult divorce but landed a good job at a museum, the museum I happen to be performing in.

“What are you doing here?” he asked smiling as I tried to straighten my beanie.

“Well, I’m a roach,” I said laughing nervously. “I’m in a show.”

“That costume is hilarious!” he said smiling. He was still strikingly handsome with a long straight nose and a sideways smile.

“Umm…I really need to pee….” I said stupidly, desperate to get away. Even though I had fallen in love with someone else, a man I would later marry, I often thought nostalgically about Damon. He took me to see Jazz all over Manhattan and we slept on his roof in his Tribeca loft on hot summer nights. He did graffiti and played Tenor sax and loved Fellini movies. It was the Manhattan of Woody Allen movies and I loved every second of it.

“Sure. I’m in a meeting now anyway. I just had to see if I saw what I thought I saw…my ex running through the halls of my job in a roach costume.”

“Happens all the time,” I said laughing nervously. .

“Great to see you Marian,” he said hugging me awkwardly smashing the legs protruding from my stomach.

By the time, I made it back to the rehearsal room, the director informed me that he and my sister had decided that she should leave the show.

“I can’t be on stage with you,” she said shaking her head.

I couldn’t help feeling disappointed but I knew it was true. When it came to keeping it together, we sucked. I had imagined my sister and I performing in schools all over the city together maybe even starting our own children’s theater but that was not to be. I had imagined too, the moment I would see Damon again. I would be wearing my favorite jeans my hair would look perfect and I would be holding Dave’s hand the way I often did.

I never imagined standing in a dingy hall, dressed as a cockroach, my shell half off, but life rarely happens the way we see it in our minds.

I saw Damon once more, a few years later. I had married Dave by then and we had recently given birth to a beautiful boy. Dave and I drove out often from Park Slope to visit my parents on Staten Island. It was a wet, cold weekend and I pulled my thin coat around Aidan who was asleep in the Bjorn on my chest. I hadn’t showered in days. I was exhausted and happy.  We climbed up the back porch steps and into the kitchen where Damon was standing shirtless, sanding my parents cabinets.

“Hey Marian!” He said turning, his muscled torso just as I had remembered.

“Hey.” I said nervously. I introduced him to Dave. They chatted for a while as I proceeded upstairs to put Aidan in his crib and scold my parents for not telling me they hired my ex boyfriend to redo their cabinets.

Dave was glad to have finally met the first boyfriend I had talked about for years. He knew, as I did, that while Damon was my first dip into love, Dave was the deep ocean of it. He liked him.

Four years later Dave would be killed at the twin towers on our eighth wedding anniversary.

Damon sent me a condolence card, one he had made himself with roses on the front. On the inside it read, “Life never goes the way you plan,”


5 thoughts on “R is for Roach

  1. Denise

    Beautiful as always Marian!! Only you can write
    a story that includes a roach funny and touching at the same time!! Love ya!

  2. Diane Matyas

    O boy- sort of strangely… I knew every character in the story ( including the Roach body-part song) but not how all these people were connected. Thank god for exoskeletons.


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